A California court has ordered singers Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke to pay $5 million to the family of Marvin Gaye for copyright infringement of Gaye’s 1977 work “Got to Give It Up” in the duo’s hit 2013 song “Blurred Lines,” CNN reported.
Gaye’s family was also awarded interest on an earlier award that wasn’t immediately paid as well as 50 percent royalties on “Blurred Lines” from now on.
In 2015, Thicke and Williams were initially ordered to pay Gaye’s estate more than $7 million. That amount was later reduced to $5.3 million. But Williams, Thicke and the rapper TI, who added a verse to the track, appealed the verdict in 2016. They were backed by 212 other songwriters, including John Oates and members of Linkin Park. The artists argued that the verdict threatened to “punish songwriters for creating new music ... inspired by prior works,” the BBC reported.
“I know the difference between inspiration and theft,” Thicke told The New York Times. “I’m constantly inspired, but I would never steal. And neither would Pharrell.”
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals largely upheld the earlier verdict; however, it dropped penalties against TI for copyright infringement. Dissenting Judge Jacqueline Nguyen criticized the decision at the time, saying it copyrighted a “musical style” and threatened to stifle creativity.
Berklee College of Music professor Joe Bennett, who created a comparison of the songs, determined that what the works had in common was simply “indicative of the time period.”
“If my favorite artist uses a cowbell and I use one too, can you copyright the cowbell?” Bennett said in Forbes when the verdict was upheld in March. “Both are arguing that their side is good for creators.”
That’s why “so many of the young songwriters are concerned. What’s the threshold? How much can I be influenced by my favorite artist?” he added.
The musicians and Gaye’s family could not immediately be reached for comment. But after the verdict was upheld in March, Gaye’s widow Jan said the decision was a “wonderful recognition of Marvin’s creativity and the lasting value of one of his greatest songs.”
Gaye was fatally shot by his father in 1984.